With four rainbow jerseys in her closet, German Hanka Kupfernagel (Itera-Stevens) knows what it takes to win the Cyclocross World Championships (actually make that five as Kupfernagel also won the Road World Championships Time Trial in 2007). And she hopes to repeat this Sunday at St Wendel in Germany.
But Kupfernagel also knows that she’ll have her work cut out for her to take the victory once again. “Women’s cycling gets more and more interesting because the top ten get closer together. I think that we’ll have a very exciting World Championship in St Wendel.”
Her tough competition includes 7-time US National Champion Katie Compton (Planet Bike) and defending World Champion Marianne Vos (Nederland Bloeit) of the Netherlands. Kupfernagel started off the season with top five finishes in the first two World Cups and wins at Nommay and Scheldecross. After injuring her shoulder during a training ride, she skipped the treacherous icy Zolder World Cup and came back a week later to win the German National Cyclocross Championships for the 11th time.
In the past two World Cups, Kupfernagel finished a strong second behind a stronger Compton, showing that her form was ramping up but she acknowledged that anything can happen at the Worlds.
“World Championship is always a different race, everybody is maybe a little bit more nervous.” she explained after finishing second at Hoogerheide World Cup this Sunday.
Another plus on her side is that one of those rainbow jerseys was claimed in St Wendel at the 2005 Cross Worlds. “I know the course and have very good memories in St Wendel. I tried my best to train hard in the last weeks and the races last week give me good motivation and I’m in a good way. I hope for a good day in St Wendel.”
She said that she didn’t feel any extra pressure because the race is in Germany, then she called it “positive pressure.”
“I know a lot of friends will come there, German TV will show it live.” According to Kupfernagel, it will be the first time that the women’s race will be broadcast live. “This is quite good. I did a lot to keep cyclocross in Germany, to make it more famous or popular.”
The Cyclocross European Championships, held in November this fall was a prime example of Kupfernagel working to increased viewership in her country. With an injured shoulder and her physio telling not to race, she was going to skip it but then…
“I knew that I had this problem and I was not in the best shape and the TV said if Kupfernagel is not coming then we are not showing any of it, and then the organizer begged me ‘you have to come even if you only go in the start’. I said yeah okay, if this is the deal, to bring cyclocross, this very interesting sport on TV, then okay I have to do it.”
And she not only started but raced and finished fourth.
She continued, “So it’s a good thing for Germany that we have it on the TV now, I also try to speak to the German journalists on how big it is in Belgium and Holland and in America. Now with Phillip Walsleben, we also have a very strong rider in the men’s. It’s very sad, the German press is soccer and now in the winter, we have these very strong biathletes… that’s why cyclocross is a little bit behind.”
A laugh as we explained that while cross was gaining popularity in the US, it was still far behind the mainstream sports.
In 2005, with three laps to go in 2005, she had dropped her closest competitors and went on to solo to victory with almost 30 seconds on second place. Last year after a season plagued with injury, Kupfernagel finished second in Tabor behind Vos. This year she hopes to return to that top step but one thing is certain, whatever happens it’s great for cross in Germany.
“I think in St Wendel, it will be a very big event and a big party, closer to Belgium and Holland than Tabor,” Kupfernagel laughed, “so it should help a lot to get fans there.”